GETTING out to Meydan to see the stunning pure-bred Arabian Af Al Sajanjle has been high on my wish list since Valentine’s Day. The way he disposed of his opposition that day was staggering and he is simply an outstanding looking horse as well, writes JUSTIN VERMAAK.

Seeing him in the flesh on Dubai World Cup Day last Saturday did not disappoint, the flashing grey has been brilliantly trained by South African Ernst Oertel, who heads the local trainer’s standings by wins and is on his way to the local trainers’ championship.

Justin Vermaak, Meydan grandstand.
Justin Vermaak, Meydan grandstand.

The $1million Dubai Kahayla Classic once again promised to be another great renewal and is always a good opening to the world’s richest race day. Last start group one winner AF Maher, another grey son of Af Al Buraq and also trained by Oertel looked to be the main danger in this year’s running.

Unfortunately, my beloved AF Al Sajanjle was the first off the bit, always under pressure and trailing in a tailed-off last place, but the stable bagged the prize with AF Maher who prevailed in a fantastic duel up the straight, coming back to defeat Fazza Al Khalediah on the post, the Polish raider losing no fans in defeat.

The Godolphin Mile was up next, a dirt contest over 1600m. Dubawi has had another dominant season in Dubai, his son Muntazah was expected to deliver the honours here after two facile back to back victories, including a ten length demolition job last time out. The Doug Watson trained gelding faced a pair of American raiders here as well as UAE stalwart Heavy Metal, who is out of the South African bred mare, Rock Opera. Logrado, a group one winner in Argentina was also making his second carnival appearance.

As always on the dirt track at Meydan, the early pace was on as runners clamoured for the lead, Heavy Metal found it and put in a game run only to be outgunned very late by one of the aforementioned American raiders in the form of Coal Front, trained by Todd Pletcher. Muntazah had every chance to quicken but found nothing, suffering a major form reversal with runner up Heavy Metal who almost pulled off a defence of his crown following his win last year, a stellar advert for Rock Opera.

The Dubai Gold Cup is always a fascinating race, this year’s running was devoid of its usual super stayer, the absence of Vazirabad and the usual staying suspects from Europe such as Big Orange and Stradivarius has left Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter as the “star” of the field. He was making his first appearance since winning the staying showpiece in November and would have to be at the top of his fitness to outstay the likes of the in form Ispolini. Call The Wind is a group one winner over 4000m from France and Melbourne Cup third place getter Prince Of Arran looked lively too.

Marinaresco, for South African interests, went the trip for the first time and definitely had fitness on his side for his fourth carnival appearance. The marathon event threw up no surprises and went to script for Godolphin. Ispolini took up the initiative into the straight as William Buick got to work aboard Cross Counter, the two battled on but it was always clear that Cross Counter was going to get there and he won well to add the Dubai Gold Cup to his Melbourne Cup prize.

Call The Wind stayed on well for third as the proven group one stayers outclassed the rest of the field comfortably. Gold Mount, a first runner for Hong Kong in the marathon, stayed on well for fourth. Marinaresco was handy early and had every chance, he was in a place position for the bulk of the race but was passed in the final stages to stay on for a creditable fifth place, another game run from him finishing probably as high in the order as he could have. Asia beckons.

Blue Point wins Al Quoz Sprint.
Blue Point wins Al Quoz Sprint.

The Al Quoz Sprint featured one of my favourite current horses, Blue Point, he is a beast of a sprinter. He bolted up in his two starts this carnival and claimed the Gr1 King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot in June last year as his maiden Gr1 success, he was therefore a strong favourite.

A pair of Aussies informed me at my hotel that Brave Smash would be a massive runner and a big danger to the favourite, Hugh Bowman aboard. A stunning performance yet again from Blue Point, one of those races where the margin of victory doesn’t reflect the true performance, a game run from Belvoir Bay in second, running the star sprinter close, but if William Buick had pulled the trigger sooner it would have been an easier win, a confident ride. Another good season in the UK beckons for the son of Shamardal. The Godolphin machine was in full force as the Appleby and Buick combination record their second win of the night.

Last year’s UAE Derby was won in a hack canter by Mendelsohn, the Scat Daddy colt owned by Coolmore smashed the race record. This year they raid with a colt by the same sire named Van Beethoven, although the more fancied of the Scat Daddy progeny lining up here was definitely the Godolphin owned filly, Divine Image. She has been in cracking form this carnival.

Phoenix Thoroughbreds are setting the racing world alight with massive investment into bloodstock and they have been reaping the rewards on the track, their ladies syndicate are represented by Walking Thunder, Golden Jaguar and Superior.

It turned out to be an American dominated affair with Plus Que Parfait managing to outgun Gray Magician close to home. The winner hadn’t faired well in his last two starts in the States, but a neck second to Signalman at Churchill Down in group two company three runs back was more to his ability which he brought to the track in the UAE Derby under a good ride from Jose Ortiz who was recording his second win in Dubai from only two rides.  It was a great moment for conditioner Brendan Walsh, who spent ten years working for Godolphin in Dubai before heading to the USA to become a trainer. The winner banked 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to be run in May.

The Golden Shaheen is the dirt sprint for the card, it has a history of being dominated by the American raiders who are obviously the specialists. X Y Jet lined up again after two back to back runners-up efforts in the race including last year behind Mind Your Biscuits who broke the track record.

He took on Roy H here, who must be up there as the best dirt sprinter in the world, he is rated 120 alongside Imperial Hint but he did defeat him easily by five lengths at their last meeting. Once they crossed the line it was X Y Jet in front, the seven-year-old finally getting his hands on this race at his third attempt. A clean sweep of the top five finishers for the USA-breds while the winner took his career earnings above $3million.

The Dubai Turf is the race I most looked forward to on the night. As a turf enthusiast it was the main event for me. It is a phenomenal race that has been won by great champions over the years including a track record display by Just A Way in 2014.

One of the highlights of coming here was to be able to see Almond Eye. the superstar from Japan, in the flesh. She had some tough competition to deal with in the form of a pair of Frankel’s, both grade one winners – Dream Castle, a last start winner of the Jebel Hatta and Without Parole, who defeated Gustav Klimt at Ascot last season.

South Africa was represented by the pair of Majestic Mambo and Yulong Prince, formerly known as Surcharge. Majestic Mambo had almost seven lengths to find on Dream Castle and Yulong Prince had well known travel delays, resulting in arriving at the races only “80%” fit according to his trainer Mike De Kock.

Japan’s highly selective breeding strategy is paying dividends as we are seeing them dominate turf racing, they took first, second and fourth here in the Dubai Turf. Almond Eye as expected put on a scintillating display, dropping down in trip to 1800m was not a problem at all and she easily disposed of Vivlos, her countrymate, making it an exacta plus fourth for the fillies and mares of Japan.

Vivlos is a former winner of the race and now twice runner up as well, outstanding mare. Lord Glitters represented some decent European form and was a game third. Almond Eye is by the new Japanese sire Lord Kanaloa and the first stakes winner of her stakes winning dam Fusaichi Pandora who is by the great Sunday Silence. To become a truly great international superstar, a horse needs to take on the best on race meetings such as this and this is exactly what the Japanese super filly has done, hopefully a tilt at the Arc next, a race I think she will win.

The Sheema Classic is for the purist, 2400m on the turf is as good as it gets in my book. It’s a race that hosts an elaborate roll of honour including Heart’s Cry and Vengeance Of Rain. Once again, the field represented Japan’s brilliance in the modern turf era. Rey De Oro and Cheval Grand are both world class performers and they travelled to neutral ground to take on the Coolmore representative of Magic Wand while Godolphin throw the top class, Old Persian into the mix with Racing History, who got very close to the former at their last meeting. 

The early running was made by the filly Magic Wand, who was then overtaken by Rey De Oro who quickly increased the tempo of the race. Old Persian placed onto the rail in third. They bunched up on the turn and some aggressive riding from Buick saw Old Persian bust his way into space after Hunting Horn from Coolmore, tried to keep him tight. When he got through his turn of foot was too strong for his rivals and he went on to beat the Japanese pair of Cheval Grand and Suave Richard into the places. Old Persian is a Godolphin homebred by the mighty Dubawi, he won at Gr2 level at Ascot last year and gave the Appleby and Buick combination their third win of the night.  

Thunder Snow, historic win.
Thunder Snow, historic win.

I love the Dubai World Cup, not because of its stature or the prize, but because the two greatest live racing performances I have ever witnessed were both in the race. The first being California Chrome’s dominating win with a massive saddle slip, the second being Arrogate’s godlike run in winning the race under an impossible trip on the dirt.

This year’s renewal was definitely not the strongest but has an added twist as Thunder Snow is definitely alive as a horse who could make history and win back to back World Cups. I’d fancied North America through the carnival, the son of Dubawi is a racing machine when he gets onto the lead, he had a chance last year but his race was dashed at the start.

Once again, this great race through up a moment to remember, a duel between last year’s winner Thunder Snow and the Phoenix owned Gronkowski which ended in history being made as Thunder Snow got up to become the first horse to win two Dubai World Cups. He was the first UAE Derby winner turned World Cup winner, now adding another record to his resume.

The son of Helmet has now earned over $16million and is due massive respect as a dual Dubai World Cup winner on dirt as well as a Gr1 winner in Europe on the turf, how many of Europe’s top horses over the years can boast such a statistic? Christophe Soumillon was at his absolute brilliant best yet again, a world class rider aboard a world class horse to make history, this is Dubai World Cup night.